Following today’s announcement that veteran Canucks centreman Manny Malhotra was going to be placed on Injured Reserve for the balance of the season, Mike Gillis addressed the situation with the media. The way Mike Gillis’ comments leaked out slowly on Twitter from the mainstream Vancouver media was, I think, a little bit confusing. I don’t blame Vancouver’s sports reporters on this, because the point Mike Gillis was making was very nuanced. It dealt with quality of life issues, adaptability and risk management, and issues as complex as those don’t really translate well to 140 character snippets.
To put it as briefly as I can from listening to the audio on the Team 1040, Mike Gillis made a judgement call. After wrestling with this decision for nearly a year (at least) Vancouver’s General Manager ultimately decided that Malhotra’s lack of vision put him at risk on the ice at the NHL level. It was a risk that Mike Gillis " wasn’t prepared to live with," in his own words.
Read on past the jump.
In his comments to the media on Thursday afternoon, Mike Gillis gave a couple of fascinating quotes. He called the decision to shut Malhotra down "the hardest thing I’ve done in this job" and he also sang Malhotra’s praises as a competitor, as a teammate and as a spokesman. He affirmed without hestitation that he wants Malhotra around the club (he said the two sides would dilineate Malhotra’s precise role with the club going forward over the next couple of days), and that he hopes to retain Malhotra’s services in some hockey ops. or coaching capacity following this season.
His most revealing comments however, concerned the process by which the team came to this decision:
"You know, we felt strongly last year that there was a risk with him out on the ice and I spoke to him at the end of last season and he felt very strongly that if he had a full summer of training that there would be improvement in a variety of ways but most importantly that he would alleviate my fear about his vulnerability on the ice. I agreed that he could have the summer to train and I was going to give him a period of time this year, and if things didn’t change that I was going to have this conversation with him. I observed and watched and I didn’t feel there had been a change and I felt he was at risk."
It really sounds like Mike Gillis wrestled with this. Based on his comments, he wanted to give Manny Malhotra a chance to "adapt" to his new range of sight, but he also felt responsible for protecting him. Gillis was also asked whether or not Manny Malhotra – who clearly overcame an awful lot to get back on the ice in the first place, and fought Mike Gillis to give him more time to improve and adapt – had accepted that his playing days were over. Gillis’ response:
"Um [long pause] I can’t answer that. You know Manny is an extremely proud guy who is very stubborn. A lesser person wouldn’t have even come back from what he’s endured. So there’s points where I felt he shared my opinion and points where I felt he didn’t. I have to make the decision and I wouldn’t put anybody in a position where I was uncomfortable with their ability to protect themselves or function out on the ice and be at a higher risk than normal. Particularly in today’s game where it’s so fast and the players are so big. Even a player not trying to injure or hurt him, an innocent collision could be really damaging if you’re unaware. I wasn’t prepared to live with that."
Thinking critically (and cynically) here, the Canucks are ultimately shelving Manny Malhotra – after discussing the possibility since last season – immediately in advance of Ryan Kesler’s return from multiple offseason surgeries. So the timing of this alltruistic decision certainly seems convenient. But you know what, based on Mike Gillis’ experience as a player (he’s said that injuries were poorly looked after by the clubs he played for) and the sincerity of his comments this afternoon, I really do buy that the Canucks General Manager wanted to give Malhotra time to prove him wrong – including some time this season.
I’m reminded of a quote Mike Gilis gave Cam Cole earlier this season. Mike Gillis, in talking about what makes his job so challenging, told Cole that in Professional Sports, "you’re aways dealing with human frailty.” I’d imagine this is a very tough pill for Manny Malhotra and the organization as a whole to swallow. Damn.
I heard Mike Gillis’ comments on the Team 1040, so a big sticktap to them for making that audio available.